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Surf’s Up – How Ocean Waves, Tides, And Temps Can Help Power The World

Strong ocean swells, and waves that crash to shore can now be transformed, and used to produce clean, sustainable energy. But while the ocean-generated power opportunity is immense, it’s under-developed today.

In the-near-future however, wave power, or marine energy, could become a new source of renewable power for nations connected to the world’s deepest, largest oceans, including many in Asia Pacific (APAC).

Unleashing the potential

Ocean power generation is varied and complex, ranging from wave power to pioneering technologies that can produce power from water temperature variations.

These technologies, and others, are tapping an energy-generating opportunity with massive potential. A 2010 study undertaken by the International Panel on Climate Change revealed that total theoretical wave power stands at roughly 32 PWh/yr – this equates to roughly double the total global energy demand in 2008.

Wave energy and tidal power

In general, ocean power is derived from two main sources – wave energy which harnesses the power travelling along an ocean’s surface, and tidal power generated from the ebb and flow of changing sea levels.

Generating energy from the sea was first pioneered at the 240 MW Rance Power Station in Britany, France, which began commercial operations in 1966, and produces today, around 500 GW of power annually. Globally, the largest plant is the 254 MW Sihwa Lake tidal power station in Korea.

While these plants are operating well, factors such as high costs of development, and low-interest from investors are some of the barriers to ocean power development today – for example, a plan to build the world’s largest tidal power station in Swansea Bay, UK, was recently shelved after a government review deemed it economically unviable.

Scratching the surface of innovation

Unlocking the energy potential of our oceans goes beyond tapping surf and tide patterns. For example, installed offshore wind power – from wind farms built in oceans and seas – stands at around 17 GW globally today.

The world’s most powerful GE-led offshore wind turbine project – a 260 metre tall, 12-megawatt generator rising above the waves – will be capable of powering 16,000 homes, and producing 67 gigawatt-hours per year, when it is fully operational. Meanwhile, the world’s first floating wind farm was recently launched off the coast of Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Floating solar

Floating solar is another rapidly emerging technology, and a current floating solar power system project in Southeast Asia could offer a new energy possibilities for industrial players.

Singapore, one of Asia’s smallest nations, is also exploring this technology to generate more renewable energy for the City Republic. While these applications are suitable for reservoirs, the first ocean-based floating solar installation will soon be launched in The Netherlands.

Surf’s up

In Indonesia, Bali’s world-famous surf breaks will soon be used to help produce 10 MW of carbon-free power in the world’s largest wave power project. If successful, this project could be replicated in many other countries with similar conditions.

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) is another power generation opportunity that could be adopted by Indonesia. OTEC is energy derived from tropical seas using the temperature difference between cooler deep, and warmer shallow, or surface seawater, to run a heat engine to generate electricity.

As the world’s biggest archipelago, covering 95,000 square kilometers of inland seas, OTEC appeals as a viable long-term option for Indonesia. In fact, Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources recently identified 17 locations that have potential for OTEC development, particularly off the coast of West Sumatra, South Java, Sulawesi, North Maluku, Bali and East Nusa Tenggara.

Given that APAC is one of the most energy hungry regions in the world, and that many nations in APAC are connected to the Pacific or Indian Oceans, it’s likely that more countries in Asia and Oceania will be test sites for other innovative ocean energy programs in the future.

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